SAN FRANCISCO — When Jony Ive, Apple’s influential design leader, exited the company in 2019, Tim Cook, its chief executive, reassured customers that Mr. Ive, the man who gave the world candy-colored computers, would work exclusively with the company for many years.
Mr. Ive and Apple have agreed to stop working together, according to two people with knowledge of their contractual agreement, ending a three-decade run during which the designer helped define every rounded corner of an iPhone and guided development of its only new product category in recent years, the Apple Watch.
When Mr. Ive left Apple in 2019 to start his own design firm, LoveFrom, the iPhone maker signed a multiyear contract with him valued at more than $100 million. That made Apple his firm’s primary client, people with knowledge of the agreement said.
The deal restricted Mr. Ive from taking on work that Apple found competitive and ensured that the designer would inform the development of future products, such as an augmented-reality headset that it is expected to ship next year, the people said.
In recent weeks, with the contract coming up for renewal, the parties agreed not to extend it. Some Apple executives had questioned how much the company was paying Mr. Ive and had grown frustrated after several of its designers left to join Mr. Ive’s firm. And Mr. Ive wanted the freedom to take on clients without needing Apple’s clearance, these people said.
Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Ive, 55, declined to comment. Apple also declined to comment.
Before leaving Apple in June 2019, Mr. Ive had grown disillusioned as Mr. Cook made the increasingly enormous company focused more on operations than on big design leaps, according to more than a dozen people who worked closely with Mr. Ive. The designer shifted to a part-time role as Mr. Cook focused on selling more software and services.
In July 2019, Mr. Cook called news coverage of Mr. Ive’s frustrations at Apple “absurd” and said it “distorts relationships, decisions and events.”
Mr. Cook’s strategy has been validated by investors who have added $1.5 trillion to Apple’s market valuation in just over two years, even as some analysts have chided it for the lull in its introduction of revolutionary devices.
Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, will continue to oversee the company’s design teams, with industrial design being led by Evans Hankey and software design being led by Alan Dye. Apple’s product marketing team, led by Greg Joswiak, the senior vice president of marketing, has assumed a central role in product choices.
Mr. Ive’s firm, LoveFrom, will continue to work with clients including Airbnb and Ferrari, and Mr. Ive will continue his personal work with Sustainable Markets Initiative, the nonprofit run by Prince Charles that focuses on climate change.
Born and raised outside London, Mr. Ive joined Apple in 1992 and rose to lead its design team. The company was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1997 when Steve Jobs tasked Mr. Ive’s team with designing the iMac. The bulbous, translucent computer became, at the time, the fastest-selling desktop in history. It restored Apple’s business and turned Mr. Ive into Mr. Jobs’s closest collaborator.
“He’s not just a designer,” Mr. Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. “He has more operational power than anyone at Apple, except me.”
Mr. Ive also developed the iPod’s white earbuds, which inspired Apple’s dancing silhouette advertising campaign, and he supported the creation of the iPhone’s touch-screen technology.
After Mr. Jobs’s death from cancer in 2011, Mr. Ive spearheaded the development of the Apple Watch. The product failed to fulfill initial sales expectations, but it created a wearables business that last year generated $38 billion in revenue.
In 2015, Mr. Ive approached Mr. Cook about leaving Apple, according to four people familiar with the conversation. The designer was exhausted from building the consensus required to produce the Apple Watch, these people said. Mr. Cook agreed to let Mr. Ive work part time.
Four years later, Mr. Ive and Mr. Cook announced the designer would leave Apple to create LoveFrom. In a statement at the time, Mr. Cook said, “I’m happy that our relationship continues to evolve, and I look forward to working with Jony long into the future.”
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